06 January 2010

Taiwan TW3 - things that hit a foreigner in Taiwan

  • - all pedestrian traffic lights have a countdown panel of how many seconds before it goes red. As you approach you know how much you have to hurry or dawdle. The green light is an animated green man running.As the countdown hits 10 seconds he starts running faster and faster.

  • - Everyone stands on the right on escalators, and the walking or running lane is on the left. This is done on all escalators, of which there are many many many... in the subway system.Little megaphones on autorplay admonish people to this. It's actually a good idea, if you want to hurry and there is an interminably long escalator that crawls up at snail's pace.
  • -The very core of the old city, all the inner city of Taipei has bike lanes and pedestrian lanes, EVERYWHERE. It is simply part of the way it was all built from the beginning.
  • Earthquakes are not unusual, tremors happen regularly. It took me a while to make the connection, but I think that is why a lot of the buildings are so SOLID and heavy constructed.
  • Hot springs easily accessible by local city trains. Go soak in hot strang smelling water, and take the subway home.
  • Taipei is a big city but has a sense of space and dignity, it is not frantic or crazy. 

  • after you make a mobile phone call, you get an SMS that tells you how long your last call was and how much it cost you and your balance, - the sms is free of course.
  • electronic money is used in may places in parallel with cash: wave your card at sensor BLEEEP and the details are on the cash register and your card is deducted the amount of your purchase.
  • Subway: same idea: wave your "Easy CARD" at the sensor and you are IN , wave it again on the way out and the cost is deducted from the card.   A little screen lights up and tells you your remining credit. If you buy your card on English language settings, then all messages from your card are in English. nifty, geeks will appreciate this.
  • Individual flats in a block of flats can be used and  rented out as offices.
  • Crossing at the pedestrianCrossing, I hear a big bus on my left, but I'm confident it will stop for me, and it does. Such are the road rules here.
  • At those pissy little intersections, I have to force myself and be "nice" and wait at the red lights like everyone else, so foreigners don't get a bad name.I'm not nice all the time.
  • Around the world: One tends to avoid parks at night. Walking home a 23:30 hours, past the Da-an park in the center of the city. I took a small peek inside, and there was a lady with her pet dog, people playing guitar, (this is winter here, cool, Melboure winter type of cool). Ok so I crossed the park and use it as a shortcut walking home.

New year's at Taipei's 101, as the world's tallest building is called. Very impressive. Wall to wall people, all major 4 lane streets are open for pedestrians only. Volunteers traffic guards keep order alongside police. No alcohol, no crazy drunks wandering the streets. Hardly any litter. Subways are total crush time of course. I walked for an hour back home. Very nice atmosphere. 


The Presidential palace is well guarded. Wide roads lead up to it, as is the custom for palaces, but I've never seen guards as vigilant anywhere in the world. As I get within 300meters there is a police/army type car and men with drawn rifles in their hands. The rifles or submachine guns or whatever they are called by the experts - have big magazines.
I cross the street and walk past the front of the palace on the pedestrian footpath. Not many people walk there. Every 20m a tall skinny guy in plain boring civilian clothes stands. But he does not just stand, he STANDS and his head moves 180 degrees, sweeping the scene, from side to side. As I pass the next guy, same thing, same facial expression, same type of clothes, just standing there WATCHING. These guys have no guns, no weapons they are the pawns on the chessboard.

The same arrangement goes all the way around the palace. Behind the pawns moving their heads are armed guards, halfway between the building and the watchers with their moving heads. These armed are the bishops or knights of the chessboard. They have uniforms, not civilian clothes and they are armed to the teeth, rifles at the ready, held in both hands.
Right by the walls of the palace are more guards, a LOT of them, also armed (of course). The front door of the palace is open, a wide red carpeted staircase goes up into the interior. Guards all the way up. I slow my walking pace down a bit to check it out but don't want to stop and gawk. Somehow something is not conducive or inviting to do that kind of thing. I don't even pull out my camera.
The vibes walking along the footpath are palpable. I cross the street breathe a sigh of relief and keep walking to Shimending. Shimending is the young people's fashion and clothes and food and movies and buskers area. Full of life and glitz and glimmer. The outrageously expensive next to the dirt cheap.
The end of my Taiwan stay is 8Jan10 :-( feel sad to leave.
Hope to come back one day.

need to plan everything ? travel enthusiasm http://www.roadjunky.com/article/2143/make-extensive-travel-plans-and-make-god-laugh


'dance me to the children who are asking to be born....'  - Leonard Cohen
You ask yourselves, "what is the matter with me ? Why am I not content ?"
Your heart is whispering "Listen to me. This is not Home.
You did not come for contentment. You came to remember." - Emanuel....

Haiko's - blogs -(o)- metaphysics  -(o)- travel -(o)- stories.
           skype ID:       MmePickwick
 One often meets one's destiny while trying to avoid it. - Anon.

Taiwan... TW1

At the coin laundromat this evening I took my just washed wet clothes out and stuffed them into the dryer next to the washing machine.
Changed a Taiwan dollar NT $100 bill into NT$10 ten dollar coins and paid what it said in red letters on the outside the machine.
Oooops. The machine was another washing machine, not a dryer.
The things one does when tired but happy.
Ok back in 28minutes, to try for the dryer again.

It's the end of the third day in Taiwan, Taipei.
I've had a whale of a time.
A Taiwanese friend offered to pick me up from the airport,
"No need I said, I'll find the office" (where I would be staying.)
The only surprise was just how EaSY it was to find their office.
The airport is clean, signposted in English and CHinese.
Tourist info people very helpful and fluent in English.
There is a bus to downtown Taipei main station for NT $123 (AUD $ 4).
Takes an hour.
Subway is simple to use, fast, cheap (AUD 60cents)
and did I say it was simple to use ? simper and more intuitive than any other system I've ever used.
Buidlings are numbered, Streets have English subtitles.
In 3 days I've never once had trouble with people not understanding me, everyone knows some English, enough to communicate food, bank, transport stuff.

But most remarkable thing  of all was the UNremarkable matter of factness of arriving in Taipei from Kuala Lumpur.
 I had never been to Taiwan (in this life) yet it felt like getting on a local train in Melbourne and getting off a few stations later.
This is what surprised me most all.
It felt like coming home and flinging the keys on the table and walking into my living room.
Not coming HOME in a dramatic "oh my gawd I'm HOME!!!!" way, but just coming home from a day at the orifice. "Hi, I'm home, do you want to eat in or go out ?"

Perhaps it was that I had been making a site about travelliing to Taiwan for months (  http://sites.google.com/site/heikorudolph/travel-taiwan   ) and sort of tuned into the place for months ?  No, its more than that. I have no idea what though.

=>> I'm keeping an eye on the length of these ramblings.
Those people who have opted for the short subscription should now get into the left lane, Exit for short subscriptions in 300 words on your left.  Put on your blinker...
Earlier travel emails with photos on: http://heikorudolph.blogspot.com/2009/12/kuala-lumpur-2009-december.html

Yesterday and today (17Dec09) I was able to see a few people for Chiron Healiing®  treatments - organized by Angelika here in Taipei. (part of my "other life" outside the Uni, in Melbourne)

I had never thought seriously about visiting Taiwan till I looked closely at the place.
Until then, I had relied on hearsay and other people's judgements "It's crowded and hot ! It's expensive, sooooo expensive ! It's all technological and industrial !"
Well it is those things in some few places but it has an incredible variety. Another example that I should not rely on secondhand info, but rather check things out myself. Of course anyone reading this should not take my word for it either... :-)  
                Just HOW expensive is it ? Today I had to buy shoes, 2 pants, socks, and a  Parka  because it is colder and wetter than I thought - total of AUD $66.
Lunch or home made dinner at a nice  family run place AUD $2-5.
It is a liveable place, there are no beggars, no one sleeps on cardboard boxes in the subways, and people are incredibly friendly, earthy, patient and robust.
For me it feels like there is an innocence and beauty in Taiwan's daily life that I only remember from my childhood in Germany. (early onset senility ?  or honeymoon phase ? )
There is less hurry, less push and shove as I walk around the city.
I feel safe.
Yet this is Taipei, the capital, the home of a world power in semiconductor chip industry and computer and IT industry and of TEA .
The houses where I am, in the center of Taipei, are solidly built. THings are maintained, and work.
Compared to that my own block of flats feels like it was thrown together at a distance by a one eyed kangaroo.  They have solid blocks of flats like that in Melbourne in places like St Kilda too and the older subburbs.

=>> ENTER Left Lane for  Exit of short subscriptions  -  200 words on your left.  

19Dec09 - Hot spring yesterday, in Wulai, easily reachable by train and bus.
While waiting for the bus a taxi driver come up to me, offered me a lift for NT$100, seemed to good to be true. My travellers cautionary instincts came to the fore.  He showed me a $100 note, (AUD$3.30) Ok fine, why not.
He was going home anyway and so he might as well get something for his trip rather than nothing.

=>> ENTER Left Lane for  Exit of short subscriptions  -  100 words on your left.  
A local Chinese Lady came with us, she also had her red $100 note in her hand so I was reassured.
The Lady jabbered  away at me in Chinese, totally undeterred that I didn't understand a word, and so I also Jabbered away at her in English. Then she sort of understood what it was like to NOT understand another language. We smiled, sat in the backiseat, looked out the window and kept talking to each other as though the other one understood.
It's kind of amazing how much you can communicate just by tone, voice, and general sound. You dont have to understand anything with your mind. to have a convesation.
Of course you need to be relaxed and not tense. Usually I'm tense because the otheer person wants something from me (like money) that I probably dont want to give them. This lady didnt want anything, just to chat, so the jabbering away approach worked very well. . .
Was fun. It felt like we DID communicate in a way, though I have no verbal idea what was exchanged. Something was.
I  was hoping it wasn't anything important she was  telling me, like "the busses stop running at 4pm and you have to spend the night in the river".
It wasn't.
But I did check for the last bus just in case.

Just how easy it is in Taiwan is borne out by the fact that I've not even had to learn the numbers yet.
Usually that is the key language survival skill, that  and the phrase  "where is the toilet ?".
Something I can say in many many languages.
But I WILL learn the numbers, so0000000on. Promise.... (but don't email and ask me if I have)
The most unlikely people will come out with English, quite relevant phrases too. The old guy making dumplings by hand in the restaurant where I have breakfast, will pop out with it, "Today no shrimp, today only pork. Ok ?"
"Sure, ok" any dumpling is ok with me. They are all handmade and delicious.
=>> EXIT  Left Lane for  short subscriptions  -   NOW !
slow your reading speed to 50 words / minute please.

Speed reading cameras operate in this area.... skim reading above 50 w.p.m. will incurr fines of up to AUD $200 !
Please read slowly and safely.

THANK YOU for stayig the course
-  please be aware of the local safe reading speed limit of 50words/minute.

Speed cameras operate. School zones 40 words/min.

The changing face of budget "Plan-as-you-go" travel: I've remarked on this before, how it has moved from face to face to online.
Travelling with a small netbook computer and local phone number is a really good way to go. I used to pooh pooh it, but have bent with he winds of change.
If not a small computer then some kind of regular email contact. The social connections are almost all done on-line, where people can check out another persons background, past events  they've been to, what others have independently said about  them etc.. example here: Heiko's profile on Couchsurfing: http://www.couchsurfing.org/people/cinnamon/
There is a nice trust between people. (yes, yes I know.... usuall objections and concerns insert <...here...> see website here)
Example: Tonight (19Dec09) I got an invite to a meeting with local Couchsurfers about Chi Gong in Taiwan. I had posted a question about and talked about my interest on the Taipei group. We met at a local Subway station and headed for the meeting (couchsurfing Org is one of many good online ways to meet traveler friendly people in local  places, in this case: people interested in Chi Gong)
The mention of Chi Gong does not bring forth lots of questions and skeptical looks here, rather inquiries of 'oh what form' do you practice ?'
It feels like finding a long lost friend to find a country where Chi Gong is part and parcel of the culture. What  took me so long to find this place ?
"Ah..... grasshopper, it was not YOU how found it, it was not time to be found. When the traveller is ready the destination appears".

The changing face of travel 2:  Less poverty in SE Asia. It used to be much more prevalent to be followed by people asking for money. Now it generally only happens more at the high volume tourist spots where the specialists operate. Even in Hanoi, there was real LACK of the constant barrage of book sellers and so forth. They have moved on, got more important things to do. 
Also: less "out space" visitor feeling. Travellers and foreigners/falangs are not the rare exotic, visitors from outer space they used to be in the 1970's and before. Nor are they regarded  as just wallets on legs, unless you go to the heavy tourist spots. 

Mentality change required. Coming to Taiwan is nothing like visiting the developing countries of SE Asia. Taiwan is the same level and sophistication as Europe, Australia etc....

There is an orderlyness and honesty about daily life: Tiny stuff: We get into the taxi at a red light. The driver does not press the button to start the meter till the light is green and the car moves.
Is it just me, or does it seem people have a little more patience here ? must be just me on holidays or is it ?
This IS the capital and the center of the capital, but in any crowd, at a restaurant or going out, I find people who can converse in English, who express opinions about European VS Hollywood films, discuss public talks and who quietly hold their own opinions on a range of subjects I can usually only discuss with fellow Ivory Tower Inmates.
I just  got an invite to a European film festival, from a friendly local Taiwanese Couchsurfer.
Alan Carpenter! are you reading this ? this one is  for you here http://www.infine-art.com/bluesbash/  

Found out about weekend crowds on the subways:
Looooooooooooooooooong  queues for most trains, hugely packed. Every weekend, when  everyone goes out.
Weekdays were a pleasant breeze, so I was totally surprised to hit RUSH hour on Saturday late afternoon.
The subway/Train/skytrain ticketing system here is the most convenient I have seen and used.

  1. Buy NT$500 card and put in wallet.
  2. When you go through the ticket gate just wave your wallet at the sensor, "BLEEP"you are logged in.
  3. When you get off, wave at  sensor again and  you are logged out and the amount deducted from your card.
no tickets, no chips, no coins, no queueing at machines. Just wander through.
I am showing great restraint by NOT commenting on Melbourne's ticketing system - other than this sentence.

Longshan Temple Taipei, above.

On the 5th floor of a building, (Chi gong restaurant in fact) suddenly the whole room  shakes and rattles. The room feels like a carboard box and like a big kid outside is shaking it.
In these cases, as in Japan, people in the room look at each, with various degree of trust  or panic, and while the rattling continues the unspoken question is:
"Is this the BIG one ?"
"Phew. no, its not"
and everyone keep going as before.
This kind of thing is normal. The building is built for it. In places where Earth tremors are super super rare (like Oz) this would have caused real damage I would imagine.

The world's tallest  Builiding, "Teipei 101" is here, in this city.
At the very top is a 60 ton ball of lead, that is positioned with an array of hydraulic  pistons  that can move and compensate this huge weight to keep the building safe. A control Engineer's wet dream come true.
Standing up there, one can feel the constant swaying, if one looks for it. Took me 20 mins to notice, but eventually you start to feel  like you are in a ship, an ever so tiny small unsteadiness. I like it, others feel queasy.

Its 5am 20Dec09,  just woke up early, writing since 3:30am.
When I'm in my own daily life I think I know the world, I think I know what  is what and spout my opinions with naive arrogance. Then I see the lives of people in different places, and how they quietly go about their things, and I realize I know very little. And I think I have realized and learned much in my travels, and so in a different kind of arrogance I again spout away in email and blogs like this one - :-)
this change of perspective, getting a grip on my smallness (though not insingficance) is what I like about experiencing diff cultures.
Of couse this is just my way of doing it, there are many other ways to realize the same thing.
Live and let live as they say.

for those who asked for the full refernce to mad dogs and Englishmen.

In Tropical climes there are certain times of day
When all the citizens retire to take their clothes off and perspire
It's one of those rules the greatest fools obey
Because the Sun is far too sultry and one must avoid its ultry-violet

The natives grieve when the White Men leave their huts
Because they're obviously....definitely....Nuts!

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun
The Japanese don't care to, the Chinese wouldn't dare to
Hindus and Argentines sleep firmly from twelve till one
But Englishmen detest-a siesta

In the Philipines they have lovely screens to protect you from the
In the Malay States there are hats like plates which the Britishers
won't wear
At twelve noon the natives swoon and no further work is done
But mad dogs and Englismen go out in the midday sun

It's such a surprise for the Eastern eyes to see
That though the English are effete, they're quite impervious to heat
When the White Man rides, every native hides in glee
Because the simple creatures hope he will impale his solar topi on a

It seems such a shame when the English claim the Earth
That they give rise to such hilarity and mirth

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun
The toughest Burmese bandit can never understand it
In Rangoon the heat of noon is just what the natives shun
They put their Scotch or Rye down and lie down

In a jungle town where the Sun beats down to the rage of man and beast
The English garb of the English Sahib merely gets a bit more creased
In Bangkok at twelve o'clock they foam at the mouth and run
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun

Mad dogs and Englshmen go out in the midday sun
The smallest Malay rabbit deplores this foolish habit
In Hong Kong they strike a gong and fire off a noonday gun
To reprimand each inmate, who's in late

In the mangorve swamps where the python romps there is peace from
twelve till two
Even caribous lie around and snooze for there's nothing else to do
In Bengal to move at all is seldom if ever done
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday
Out in the midday
Out in the midday
Out in the midday
Out in the midday
Out in the midday
Out in the midday sun

(Transcribed by Mel Priddle - October 2002)

 From the musical revue "The Third Little Show" (1924)
(Noel Coward)
Noel Cowardhttp://lyricsplayground.com/alpha/songs/m/maddogsandenglishmen.shtml

Aswan, Egypt, Tombs of the Nobles